Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: Let It Snow - Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle

Let It Snow
Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Christmas
Publisher: Speak
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Okay, so I fully intended to review Spare and Found Parts today. Actually, I fully intended to review it last last Friday, when, you will recall, I posted my Poisoned Blade review. The book had come out on the 4th and I was scheduled to post on the 7th -- it was perfect timing!!! Alas, I have been hit by not one but two waves of midterms (not uncommon in college, as some of you may know). Are there more coming? Will they bleed into finals? Who knows? Not me. In any case, my Book Reading has been lacking (gasp!!!!) and so I have not even started Spare and Found Parts (note: I wrote pants instead of parts and like...that's definitely a book I want to read). I read Let It Snow some time over the summer (Poisoned Blade too, for the record, since I mentioned it earlier) even though I love both John Green and Maureen Johnson to death and Lauren Myracle's ttyl series was definitely part of my preteen reading selection at some point so I really should have read it years ago.

Anyway, the point of that long paragraph was: fight me if you're bitter I didn't post a review on a ~current~ book.

Okay!!! Let's get down to business!!!!! So the book is three separate stories, but they take place in the same snowstorm in the same town so they're like ~connected.~ The first is Maureen Johnson's, which I loved from the first line. Her writing was so ~sharp~ and the voice was so strong. The plot was a little ridiculous but I think it worked because 1. the plot was kinda ridiculous for all three stories so it wasn't like a high then a low then a high or some other combination, it was just a constant maintenance of shenanigans where you could kinda suspend your disbelief, 2. I feel like Christmas stories and movies always have that quality about them where a lot of things happen that would be absurd normally but are played for drama or sappiness or something. Also, her character's name is Jubilee which is fun to say so like does anything else really matter? I'd give her story 4 or 4.5 stars.

I liked John Green's story as a whole but I liked it slightly less than Maureen Johnson's and I didn't think it was his best work or anything. I think the highlight was the element of Waffle House, which, as a resident of the South, I truly appreciated. Anyway, I think the reason I didn't like his as much as I wanted to was that when considering the characters against the plot, both are good but not great and neither holds the weight of the novella enough to justify the unexceptional nature of the other. The characters are well-written and witty but a little two-dimensional even for a novella. The plot isn't boring or anything but it doesn't bring anything new. The story is enjoyable and fun and I certainly liked reading it but I wouldn't reread it again and again, you know (which I definitely would with some of John Green's other works so it's not the writing so much as this specific story). I'd give it a 3.5.

I liked Lauren Myracle's the least. Her main character was hella annoying but!!! even though she sucked to read, that was actually not the worst part of the story. Although some stories the unlikable protagonist ruins things, I don't necessarily need to like the main character to like a story and this was one of those cases. I could mostly ignore her, especially since she seemed so caricatured there was no way she wasn't depicted this way on purpose, to lead to some sort of epiphany that would make her kind and good at the end or something. The narrative was just...unfulfilling, however, and annoyed me pretty hardcore at times (the whole time). I think Addie (the protagonist) was supposed to have experienced some growth during the events that transpired, but like, it was weird and didn't work. 1 star for the way the stories came together at the end and the teacup pig. (Also, out of the two Lauren Myracle stories I've read that weren't when I was like 12, this is the second one I'm giving 1 star, so maybe she should just...Not)

I know the star ratings I gave don't average out to 3.5 stars but like...fight me. Anyway, the book is cute, especially to get in the holiday mood (because like, you can never start too early) and I may or may not recommend reading the first two stories and then skipping to the last chapter.

- Noor

Waffle House or IHOP?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Gemina - Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff 
Series: The Illuminae Files, #2
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, Action
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the ARC I received at BEA!


As I'm writing this review, it is the end of May and I have just finished reading Gemina because after receiving an ARC at BEA this year, I could not resist reading it as soon as possible. While I am so happy I didn't have to wait a long time to read this epic follow up to Illuminae, I also hate myself because now I'll have to wait extra long to read the next book, which is going to be torture considering how much I LOVED Gemina.

For those of you who haven't read Illuminae, you need to get on that ASAP, and you can read my review for more details on why that book is awesome. Continue on to find out why the sequel is equally awesome.

Like Illuminae, Gemina is told through a dossier, this one following Hanna Donnelly and Niklas Malikov as their home comes under attack. As if hostile invaders weren't bad enough, there are also alien predators and a broken wormhole to deal with. Basically, things are pretty messed up.

"The universe itself depends on you.
... No pressure."

I absolutely LOVED Hanna and Nik! I think I liked Kady a little bit better, but Hanna is still a really strong heroine - she kind of reminded me a little bit of Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson books. On the other hand, I liked Nik a little bit more than Ezra, which I think is, in part, because he is more present throughout Gemina than Ezra was throughout Illuminae. Nik's humor is so great, and I loved all his interactions with Hanna and his cousin Ella.

While in Illuminae Kady and Ezra knew each other and had a relationship before the book started, Hanna and Nik aren't really friends at the beginning of Gemina. It was really cool to see how the two are brought together throughout the book, despite the unfortunate circumstance. There were so many ups and downs for them - it was a wild ride.

I also really loved Nik's cousin Ella. While she isn't present for most of the action, she's an absolute riot whenever she interacts with anyone. She's the really cool background hacker who keeps everyone alive. It's great. AND KADY'S DAD! I actually screamed when he was introduced because I was so excited. It was fun hearing him talk about Kady after having read about her through Illuminae.

Gemina did not disappoint when it comes to the same thrilling action, romance, and humor readers of Illuminae will expect. All the twists and ~science things~ were so much fun to follow, and it was such a great second book that left me starving for book three. Readers of Illuminae will not be disappointed by Gemina, and if you haven't read Illuminae yet, you should get on that. This is definitely one of my favorite series, and I highly recommend it. Can't wait for book three!

Frobisher better watch her back.

- Kiersten

If your home was being invaded and you could only save one thing, what would it be?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blog Tour Review: Holding Up The Universe - Jennifer Niven

Holding Up the Universe
Jennifer Niven
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young readers
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I have so many feelings about this book!!!! I don't even know where to start!!!!!!!! I read the ARC Kiersten picked up for me at BEA back in August and seeing the hype surrounding the release a few days ago just makes me want to reread it and take it all in again (which tbh I will probably do when I'm not tryna write 15 papers).

Holding Up the Universe shifts between two points of view: 1. Jack Masselin, who has prosopagnosia, or face-blindness (basically everyone looks like strangers to him, even his own family) but for some reason does not tell anyone and just tries to fake it til he makes it, and 2. Libby Strout, who, after her mother's death, started stress/binge eating and ended up being dubbed "America's Fattest Teen" and had to be cut out of her house but has since lost enough weight to stop homeschooling and go back to high school.

Both of these characters were so phenomenally well-written I can't possibly do them justice in a review. But this was most certainly a character-driven story, so I guess I do have to talk about them and attempt to show you why I love them. Jack oozed ~swagger~ and ~cool guy vibes~ but inside was just a precious little nerd. I found him so endearing and also so incredibly real like at any moment while I was reading I would look up and he would be there, spouting off his dialogue. He had a calculated, mathematical way of thinking that sounded so intriguing and engaging.

Libby also felt super real, but I feel like I just liked Jack a lil bit more and so I connected to him a little more. This isn't to say I didn't like Libby of course because she was great. Her character also could have been in the room in front of me and I would not have been surprised. Libby was definitely a lot ~softer~ than Jack. She loved dancing and literature and writing quotes on her shoes and finding herself in unexpected places. Her narration was also always eloquent and expressive. Also, she had this book she was obsessed with, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and it looked and sounded super cool and I looked it up and it's being made into a 2017 movie with Sebastian Stan and Alexandra Daddario and the girl who played Violet in AHS (also, it was a really cool, well-incorporated motif throughout the book which is why I bothered looking it up in the first place).

Anyway, Jack and Libby seem like characters from such different walks of life but they're alike in a lot of ways -- tough exteriors, squishy interiors, etc -- and their stark differences really help them grow as individuals and also find the things that are similar. I don't know if that made sense, but the two have a lot of chemistry. I was rooting for them so hard.

The story is cute and one of my favorite contemporaries I've read this year. I know it's gonna be a book I read hella times. Jennifer Niven makes the reading experience seem like you're not even reading, just floating through the lives and the drama of the characters. Her writing just feels so effortless. The characters are so well-developed -- side characters included -- and the story draws you in both with the main plot and the tiny little details that add so much to the story. Basically, read the book. You will not regret it.

Also, before I end, one quick note. I've seen some ~~controversy~~ about the book and people finding it offensive and I think a lot of it was posted in the months leading up to the release from people who hadn't actually read it, but like, it's not an offensive or distasteful book in the slightest. Libby doesn't become ~thin and beautiful~ and then get the guy and Jack doesn't love her "despite" her body and there's no magic weight loss journey or whatever else people are crying about. The book is a diverse, beautifully written journey of two teens struggling with their respective issues and it doesn't trivialize or make fun of those issues in any way.

- Noor

Cool guy vibes or cute dancing queen vibes?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: Poisoned Blade - Kate Elliot

Poisoned Blade
Kate Elliott
Series:Court of Fives, #2
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young readers
Rating: DNF

I honestly cannot remember the last time I DNF'ed a book. I've finished books so bad they took me a month to bring myself to read, but I finished. I'm actually a little surprised that this is the book that I finally ended up DNFing because from what I read, I didn't totally hate and utterly despise it or anything. I've finished (and reviewed) way worse books. But oh well, c'est la vie.

If you have no idea what this book is about, I reviewed the first book in the series with Amrutha last year and you can read that here! Basically, it's about a girl who lives in a world with major class divisions and lots of political ~~shadiness~~ and also there's a Prince and and some Games and some other stuff. In my Court of Fives review I'm a little on the fence about how much I like the book, but in my experience the second book in a trilogy is often the strongest so I was optimistic about this one.

The book picked up right where the first book ended, which would have been cool if I hadn't forgotten half the plot and had to piece it together as I read Poisoned Blade. That's not a point against the book or anything because it's pretty biased toward my own memory, but now you know what I had to go through. Moving on, one of my grievances is against the characters, which I'm pretty sure was also a grievance in the first book. I liked Jessamy -- the protagonist -- in Court of Fives, but in this book she seems more annoying and introspective. I also wasn't all that impressed by any development of her sisters -- they still felt like stock characters to me -- though I'm sure that could have changed by the end of the book. Also Kalliarkos was kind of irritating as well -- I can understand it a little because Jessamy did him dirty but also homeboy's gotta stop being petty.

Speaking of Kalliarkos, I mentioned in my review of the previous book that I wasn't all that into their romance and it holds true for this one. Their interactions were even weirder here than in Court of Fives. I'm lowkey hoping that in the last few pages some previously unknown second love interest comes out of the woodwork because I'm really not feeling this.

In general, the book was just hard to get through. The writing itself wasn't bad, but I would get bored very quickly and not come back for a long while and I like to read books in long uninterrupted chunks when I can, so the way I read it (which was a result of the content, not like...laziness or something) just added to the lack of enthusiasm for reading it. I still can't pinpoint what exactly it is about the book that makes it this way. It was a lot more heavy with the ~politics~ but I actually liked that and found it one of the things that kept me interested. I think the main issue is that there was so much going on and so many plots that eventually it got a little bit all over the place and ended up becoming uninteresting.

There are so many 4/5 star reviews for this on Goodreads that I think I might give this another chance in a few (many) months and see if I just read it at the wrong time or something, but for now I'm just going to accept that this series is not for me.

Side note: Can we appreciate that I tend to ramble so much that I basically wrote a full length review for a DNF book?

- Noor

Do you DNF books often?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning - Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning
Jessica Cluess
Series:Kingdom on Fire, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Kiersten picked an ARC of this book up for me at BEA and, looking for something to use to help me procrastinate, I realized this had a recent release date -- September 20th, 2016 -- so I thought I'd read and review for those interested!

I didn't know anything about the book before picking it up and reading the back cover, at which point I learned it involved Sorcerers and Magic -- two things I can always get behind -- and a protagonist who was Not the Chosen One (also something I can get behind). The book, in a nutshell, focuses on Henrietta Howel, a girl who can control fire, in a time when female sorcerers essentially Do Not Exist. Her powers are discovered and she is sent to train with London's best.

I had a hard time figuring out how to rate this one. I liked it more than 3.5 stars but less than 3.75 stars?? I'm gonna stick with 3.5.

One of the things I found coolest about this book was how it just took the concept of the Chosen One and turned it on its head. We know from just the back cover that Henrietta isn't the Chosen One and that forces us to ask: Who is she and what role does she play in this narrative? And if she as the protagonist is indispensable in their fight what title does that give her?

In general, I liked the whole ~vibe~ of the book -- fighting monsters in Victorian England using magic; all my favorite things!!!! However, each facet had something bringing it down too, which contributed to my confusion about how to rate it. Let's examine, shall we?

General themes/plot/etc:
I said I liked the vibe and the concept and everything but I feel like it was definitely not as fleshed out as a first book in a series should be. It's told from Henrietta's first person POV as a 16 year-old who's lived her entire life in this world and she kinda just talks about it in passing -- in a way that would be natural for every day life -- and we have to put the pieces together. Obviously Cluess tries to add some dialogue and narration in that serves as explanation but the worldbuilding is definitely lacking. We get a general understanding of what's going on but I definitely hope the second book will provide more insight.

So, I loved all the characters at first glance -- you have the charming, flirty handsome dude, the brooding, mysterious, sullen dude, the stable boy best friend, a charming old man trainer, a terrifying old man trainer, Henrietta herself, etc, and lots more. While reading, they're all fun, and this book is full of dialogue to make you angry or excited or nervous or whatever emotion. Except, when you keep reading, they start to feel a little like Character Tropes. I realized it when Lord Blackwood kept reminding me of Mr. Darcy with his brooding too-good-for-you attitude one minute and then small moments of helpfulness. I'm not saying they're all tropes or stock characters but I think they need a little more dimension. Like, it was super fun to read them in this book but when another one comes out they might seem a little flat if they don't have another layer or two.

I'm not spoiling anything here so I'm not going to say or imply anything, but!!!! I want to make a point to say that I think people in general are using the term "love triangle" too loosely. Like, people are saying "omg!!!!! this book has a Love Triangle!!!!" about every book that just has more than one character that the protagonist can be attracted to. I don't really think that's a love triangle, I think that makes a book fun because I can have a ship and see who gets together at the end, rather than just having two people destined from the start. I think a love triangle is more like when three people are all involved in each other's love stories. Anyway, living with like eight guys, there was bound to be some Choices for Henrietta to make and I thought this was a great part of the book that I can't wait to explore in the next book!

Victorian England:
This is purely subjective and did not really impact my review but I think Jessica Cluess should have utilized Victorian England more in the book. Because I really like it as a concept and a time period.

Anyway, this is getting long so some final thoughts: I don't want my negative comments to deter you from reading -- they were more fleshed out than my positive comments so they probably seemed longer and more intense but I really did like the book. I read through it in one sitting because it was a pretty captivating read. I have no qualms with things that actually happen story-wise and am excited to explore things like magicians and magic and the Ancients even more in the next book -- I feel like a lot of this book was Setting Up for things to come. While I do wish some things were more fleshed out, like characters and worldbuilding, I'm still excited to continue this series and for a book that I went into with zero knowledge and zero expectations I was pleasantly surprised.

- Noor

If you could control an element, what would it be?
Let us know in the comments!